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Reforming Forest Practices

Roy Keene wrote this report on reforming forest practices in 1999. He gave an address with some of the same themes to Oregon's Board of Forestry (BOF) the same year. Little or nothing has changed. Securing any significant industrial logging reform through Oregon's timber dominated legislature is highly unlikely if not impossible. Reforms will require direct and forestry intelligent changes through Oregon's ballot initiative process.




A newsletter promoting responsible and restorative forestry 



This issue of Western Forestry Report is the second in a series addressing regional private forest practices, their need for change, and some possible reforms for both forest practice goals and logging rules.


Produced by Public Interest Forestry Inc. as an educational supplement, WFR, published entirely electronically, is also available in PDF for reprinting. It may be freely printed and circulated in it's entirety. It was authored by Roy Keene with editing and formatting by Melissa Katz.  WFR expresses the best information currently available on it's subject as well as the opinions of it's author.


Reforming Forest Practices Through Redefining Goals

Goals drive forest plans and practices. Attempting to reform a state's private forest practice rules without also refocusing or reforming the legislative goals is easily challenged.


All three Pacific state's forest practice goals (Oregon, Washington and California) place private timber production and, in Washington State, a "viable forest products industry", ahead of protecting commonly owned (public) forest resources… most notably soil, air, water, wildlife and fish.


Oregon's Forest Practice Act goals state that:

"It is declared to be the public policy of the State of Oregon to encourage economically efficient forest practices that assure the continuous growing and harvesting of forest tree species and the maintenance of forestland for such purposes as the leading use on privately owned land, consistent with sound management of soil, air, water, fish and wildlife resources and scenic resources within visually sensitive corridors as provided in ORS 527.755 that assures the continuous benefits of those resources for future generations of Oregonians."


How about if Oregon's forest practice rule goals read something like:

"It is declared to be the public policy of the State of Oregon to protect human health, soil, air, water, fish, wildlife and scenery from degrading forest practices, and to insure the continuosly sustained growth and harvest of high quality timber; all in order to provide a continuous flow of all forest resources for future generations of Oregonians."


Indeed, in contrast to the Pacific state's "timber industry first" attitude, the United Nation's Conference on Human Settlements proclaimed:


"Land cannot be treated as an ordinary asset, controlled by individuals and subject to the pressure and inefficiencies of the market. Private land ownership is also a principal instrument of accumulation and concentration of wealth and therefore contributes to social injustice. Public control of land use is therefore indispensable."


Electing State Foresters and Forestry Boards

Regaining public control over forestlands and their commonly owned resources will require establishing more socially responsible forest practice rules. This endeavor requires not only reforming archaic forest practice goals, but how rule making bodies are chosen and controlled.  


For example, Oregon's Board of Forestry is appointed by the governor and approved by the Senate.  In reality, the corporate industry holds most of the say over a committee of people that wield considerable de facto power over our common forest resources. Making Oregon's State Forester and the other Board of Forestry members subject to the voters through general elections might be one way to return reasonable control of common forest resources to the public.


Protecting Our Waters, The Most Important Logging Reform

Though it's easy to take water for granted in this part of the west, citizens are learning that it's the most important resource the forest provides.  After a timber corporation has cut down an entire forest watershed and relocated to another region, local humans and fish will have to drink and live in the water they've left us with. As the climate warms and competitive demands for water grow, asserting public rights over private forest practices will be an important way to continue owning and enjoying the water we have now.




This upland riparian, a tributary to the McKenzie River, is unprotected and was completely logged over.


Logging roads and clearcuts, along with the collateral damages to the rest of the forest ecosystem, wreak havoc with cold, clear water supplies. Most scientists, at least the ones not owned by industry, agree that the single most important change needed in Northwestern private forest practices is increased riparian protection. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has recognized and stated the need to establish permanent and inviolate riparian protection zones (RPZ's) to save salmon habitat as well as water quality.


In Oregon's Coast Range private forests, owned largely by the timber industry, establishing RPZ's at the level recommended by NMFS could put 30% of the forest off limits to logging. Much of the land that would be affected is very steep and dissected, critically soiled and heavily roaded, and commonly covered with young plantations (hydrologically unrecovered). It is also contains a high proportion of critical habitat for threatened salmon stocks.


Other regions in Oregon's private forests, due to less dissected and steep topography with generally less dense riparian systems, would not be impacted nearly as much by the NMFS recommended RPZ's. An important facet of riparian protection, watershed assessment, would help to identify critically impacted drainages that would require healing and protection from further logging disturbance beyond increased RPZ's. Under Governor Kitzhaber's Oregon Plan for salmon recovery, a watershed assessment process is being prepared by an Idaho contractor. The first draft falls far short of federal standards for assessment and has obviously been heavily influenced by the timber industry.


In Washington, the Timber, Fish and Wildlife process has tentatively called for RPZ's of twice the width (300' on each side) for critical steelhead streams.  Unencumbered by an industrially dominated "we can do it ourselves" plan, Washington is coming closer to complying with the NMFS's recommendations for saving critical salmon habitat.


What About Banning Clearcutting?

In their recommendations to Oregon's governor and Board of Forestry, NMFS scientists did not address clearcutting as the target of their suggested logging reforms.  This doesn't mean that large scale clearcutting doesn't devastate salmon habitat. It simply means that many fish scientists are comfortable with large, intact riparian zones being able to absorb seasonal overflows, erosion and sediment from upslope clearcuts and roads.


Focusing Northwestern logging reforms on banning clearcutting has a straight forward appeal, especially considering the abundance of ugly, massive cuts throughout the region.  It would, however be more ecologically appropriate and far more defensible to simply restrict clearcutting. Restricting logging unit sizes to a fraction of those currently allowed while requiring retention of more leave trees and mature buffers would foster silvicultural freedom to regenerate and grow shade intolerant trees at the stand level while conserving and diversifying a more natural and stable forest landscape.


Reducing Industrial Overcutting, The Second Most Important Reform

Massive clearcutting is the visible part of the main threat to Oregon's forest environment and economy, non-sustainable deforestation, commonly called "overcutting".


In Oregon, industry owns about 5,650,000 acres of timber compared to 2,600,000 "woodlot" acres, a little over twice as much timberland.  Almost two thirds of Oregon's total timber harvest and over two thirds of the reported clearcut acres currently come off of industry forestlands. Acres reported as "partial cut" by the state can be misleading since they also represent a large annual acreage of land that is "high-grade" harvested (where all the merchantable or market-valuable trees are removed). In many ways, such as causing dysfunctional shifts in tree composition, high-grade logging is, over the long term, more biologically degrading than clearcutting and replanting the same species that was removed.


In many Oregon counties, like Douglas for example, the largest single negative impact (a 75% drop in timber harvest levels during a five year period!) to intact forest ecosystems and the forest product economy can be factually attributed to the overcutting of the industrial forest. Indeed, during the 1980's, industry cut eight times more timber than woodlot owners; in the 90's, their saw timber inventories down 30%, they still cut over three times more timber than woodlot owners, even when woodlot harvests were at all time highs due to export market pressures.


According to Oregon's Department of Forestry reports, non-industrial owners clearcut a much smaller proportion of their forest in western Oregon.  Levels of clearcutting have been increasing on industry lands, partially due to shrinking tree size, and declining on woodlot lands (Lettman et al). This trend will become more pronounced over the next decade, as the woodlot owners who have withstood the last six years of intense pressures to cut timber are likely to be very savvy and conservative managers, likely to maintain older and higher quality timber stands.




This private woodlot was thinned at the same age industry clearcuts. It will produce high quality timber in few decades.


Industry, however, will continue to overcut their forests to cash in on high export log markets, monetary exchange rates, high interest rates, repay land acquisition capital, relocate operations, or simply to appease stock holders. There are no incentives that can possibly equal the profit to be made from overcutting when market, interest and currency rates are "right". Without socially imposed restrictions, industry will cut out an entire region, then return to one they cut fifty years earlier.


Measure 64 Missed The Mark

Recently defeated Measure 64, promoted as a "clearcutting ban", took aim at the tip of the iceberg by proposing to permanently prohibit the cutting of two thirds of every "average" private forest acre. For starts, the measure should be focused on the overcut industrial forest.

Instead it attempts to force ecologically and economically unrealistic tree retention levels on every private forest owner without recognizing the better kept small woodlot ownerships. 


Measure 64 further failed to:


•    reverse the timber-first goals of the Forest Practice Act

•    focus increased forest practice restrictions on the cause of the greatest damage to      

     common forest resources, the overcutting of the industrial forest.

•    propose increased protection for critically impacted watersheds and increased buffer 

     zones for streams and riparian areas, steep slopes, and high risk sites.

•    address the strengthening of existing rules, attempting instead to reinvent parts of the 

     Forest Practice Act, opening the Measure to excessive legislative challenge.

•    consider the diverse geographical and ecological characteristics and requirements of 

     Oregon's forests by proposing blanket prescriptions.

•    address private logging roads, the single greatest cause of downstream erosion and 


•    provide substantially increased penalties for non-compliance while bolstering the 

     enforcement division of the Department of Forestry.


Summarizing Forest Reforms

A more reasonable and focused approach to reforming logging practices is to start with the socially responsible and scientifically defensible aspects of reform listed above. Incentives should be also be considered, such as granting harvest tax relief for maintaining older forest stands. Operator licensing and timber harvest plan design and review by professional foresters fosters a higher level of social and ecological responsibility in California. Over time, the best change maybe to simply reform the rule making body, the State Board of Forestry, so that it becomes responsible for protecting common forest resources and sensitive to the desires of the people rather than subservient to corporate timber industry.


There has been little if any real progress with the FP rules. Furthermore, over the years I’ve watched every rule’s minimum become, at best, an operational maximum.


Several examples in point:


In the early 1990’s, folks spent a lot of time trying to limit unit size. The original 60 acre limit under consideration got pushed to 120, which is now easily doubled to 240 acres with a simple waiver, available to most owners when the operational permit is pulled.




Where are the leave trees in this logged over upland riparian area?


The two tree per acre minimal leave tree rule got corrupted to where a scant clutch of leave trees is now left at a units edge. The original concept was that clearcuts would become more like seed tree cuts, insuring at least a minimal of natural species carry over.


The steep slope restriction effort spawned as a result of the tragic logging-caused landslide at Hubbard Creek ( I was an expert witness) that killed people from three families living below got diluted by the bogus ODF landslide research that followed.


The 300’ Class 1 stream riparian buffer fish people worked for so hard got pushed back to 100’ operationally with an allowance for removing 50-80% of the heavier basal volume.


Changes to Oregon’s Forest Practice Rules should start with the goals. As with public forest reforms, to reform logging operations you have to start with reforming goals. The industrial members of the BOF, particularly Howard Sohn, then Kitzhaber’s “forestry advisor” and owner of Sun Studs, squirmed when I mentioned changing FP goals to reflect the 21st century.


I’m personally convinced it will take a voter initiative to accomplish any significant changes with the BOF or the Forest Practice Rules.  



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